Jesuit Universities as Sanctuaries for Truth and Justice

Conversationsby Debra Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Although the spring issue of Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education is already out, I find myself still thinking about the fall issue, which focused on Jesuit universities as “sanctuaries for truth and justice.” (You can read the full issue here: LINK.)

From cover to cover, the Fall 2017 issue was provocative and inspiring and challenging. Articles tackled a wide range of topics (racial injustice, immigration, the current political climate), applying both legal and spiritual/moral concepts of sanctuary to advance our collective understanding of the complex roles Jesuit universities play in the lives of individuals and of societies.

Certainly, an originating impulse for the issue was the current political climate in the U.S. Many of our students continue to live in fear and uncertainty as the debate about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections rages on. Jesuit institutions have taken public stands on this important legislation (click  here for the AJCU’s Statement on DACA Rescission), and students across our institutions are embracing activism in various ways. On most campuses, faculty members have redoubled their efforts to help students learn the art and craft of sound argument-making, to “throw light on an issue” rather than “throwing verbal rocks at each other” (DiSanto and Adkins, 2017).

One passage in particular, from Howard Gray’s piece on “Sanctuary for the Heart,” has stayed with me — the idea of the university as a “sanctuary of dialogue”:

“Higher education invites the exchange of ideas, the opportunity for civilized debate, the plurality of approaches, all in the kind of climate where listening is as important as speaking. The soul of dialogue is mutuality, seeking the truth together. Higher education should provide safe places to work together to learn. Dialogue puts winning on hold . . . Dialogue needs a sanctuary.” (10).

As I continue to reflect on this passage, I wonder in what ways do we promote, teach, and model meaningful dialogue in our classrooms? How are we preparing students for the discomfort that comes in real dialogue — the discomfort of feeling challenged, of finding ourselves unsure, of not orienting ourselves toward “winning” and “losing” (hallmarks of debate, not dialogue)?

For universities — and especially Jesuit universities — to live up to their civic duty to help students continuously pursue truth and justice, we must create socially just learning environments in our courses.

If you have successful strategies for making the classroom into a refuge for authentic, respectful, rigorous dialogue, consider sharing those strategies with your SLU colleagues, in the comment section on this blog post – or in a blog post of your own.


DiSanto, Ron and Karen Adkins. “The Challenge of Making Good Logical Arguments.” Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education, Fall 2017/52. 21-23.

Gray, Howard. “Sanctuary of the Heart.” Conversations on Jesuit Higher Education, Fall 2017/52. 8-10.

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